Steven Soderbergh is a filmmaker almost tailor-made for our time. With each new addition to his body of work, he pushes the boundaries of the medium and comes up with unexplored ideas that have admittedly led to mixed results. His new movie Let Them All Talk (available to stream on HBO) was made for three cents, in the course of two weeks and on the basis of an improvised dialogue – which I can confidently guess is a first. And what a formidable early Christmas gift this is.
Alice Hughes (Meryl Streep) is a Pulitzer-prize winning author who embarks on the Queen Mary 2 alongside two of her oldest friends (Candice Bergen, Dianne Wiest), her nephew (Lucas Hedges) and her agent (Gemma Chan) to pick up a literary prize in England. Why each of them received the invitation to join in, no one really knows for sure. Perhaps a way to overcome writer’s block, maybe to make amends for past mistakes. Once aboard, each character’s intentions are revealed and put on display for everyone else in the gang to pitch into.
Streep hits the jackpot with a subtle and moving performance, but that stopped surprising anyone centuries ago. Here, though, she so fondly conveys the ambivalence of a realized author -an intellectual- who is still desperate to find meaning. Candice Bergen is hilarious as the gold-digging estranged friend, still unrecovered from the loss of her pre-novel life. Dianne Weist is irresistible and her disguised nostalgia is sheer tenderness. Gemma Chan is an absolute star, and Lucas Hedges is thoroughly invested though at times distracting. They are all obviously having a blast. A movie made without a fully developed script could have easily collapsed in the hands of a different director and a less proficient cast. Yet this bunch of A-listers takes it so seriously that the movie manages to come to life without the need of artifice or pomposity.
Honoring its name, talk they do talk. If one pays enough attention to the delightful Deborah Eisenberg-supervised dialogues, one will be rewarded with a deeper, more meaningful reflection than anticipated. Perhaps it was not all about vanity, after all. Perchance one or two of among them was truly after genuine re-connection. It is possible that the need for closure had been dragging on for too long.
Ultimately, Let Them All Talk succeeds not just as a cinematic experiment. It is also a great metaphor. Of the crossing from one place to another, from one side to the next – with all the fun, success, secrets, vile, greediness and disappointment in between.